Restored in 1999, the Rose Blanche Lighthouse is proving vital not only in preserving the town’s history, but in driving the local economy.
©J. R. Roy / Special to The Gulf News
ROSE BLANCHE–HARBOUR LE COU, NL – The historic lighthouse at Rose Blanche has come a long way.
Originally built in 1871 and restored in 1999, the lighthouse has become a staple to residents who depend on it not only to help preserve their unique history, but to help drive the economy by attracting tourists from every area of the globe.
Edith Leamon, who works in the gift shop and loves talking with people, said that the site gets a lot of visitors from Australia and Switzerland. The gift shop boasts a wide variety of goods made by local clothing makers, novelists and other artisans, which allows fledgling entrepreneurs to reach the key tourism market. Leamon says she has seen an increase by tourists hungry for food, books and unique Newfoundland souvenirs.
“I can see a difference in the craft store. We do sell a lot of local goods,” said Leamon. “We’ve actually been quite busy with our picnic lunches this year.”
Guests can select from several choices, including lobster, and dine anywhere on the site, although most choose the granite rocks overlooking the water just below the lighthouse. There’s also a grub box offering hot foods to hungry tourists, and eventually the site hopes to move it to a nearby larger building as growth continues.
Manager Madonna Lawrence says that June this year is likely on par with last season, but that July seen an increase in the number of visitors to the site.
“This year we were expecting our visitation to be down in July because it’s a little bit slow in the first week, but actually we are up 122 people,” said Lawrence, who is hoping to see August do just as well.
Larger groups are also starting to take advantage of the gorgeous scenery. Bus tours are coming more often, and recently there were three at once crowding the little parking lot. Many couples choose to have their wedding photos taken on the site, and there is an upcoming family reunion with almost three-dozen people coming, most of who have booked a picnic lunch.
As visitor numbers keep going up, so do the jobs. Originally Lawrence was the only full-time park employee, but this season that number has grown to five. Eight more were hired under a work grant and seven students from student work programs.
And the economic benefit to workers extends beyond Rose Blanche, says RB Lighthouse board president Maxine Edwards.
“We got people not only from our own community, there were four people here from Burnt Islands and a young fellow from the (Codroy) Valley,” said Edwards.
The same beauty and history that attracts the tourists also attracts the workers.
Two of this year’s students and Rose Blanche residents, Scott Rose and Nick Neil, are first-time employees doing a lot of the site’s maintenance while fielding questions from tourists. Rose’s father, Alvin, made a lot of the historically accurate furniture for the lighthouse display.
“I probably would,” said both boys in unison about the possibility of returning to work next season.
In addition to the lighthouse, the site also boasts a bed and breakfast called The Lightkeepers Inn, which usually accommodates eight but can push that to 10 guests if necessary. Originally a private house, the building had been left to fall into disrepair for about three years before the committee purchased it and converted it entirely. Guests staying at the inn receive passes to the lighthouse and enjoy stunning views of a few of Rose Blanche’s four coves.
The inn will be paid for entirely in 2021, which means even more revenue for the site. Such revenues are critical because, although the lighthouse is made of granite, it still requires regular upkeep. Throw in regular utilities and unexpected expenses, like crushed stone to re-cover the parking lot after heavy rains, and costs can quickly mount.
The board is focused not only on covering those costs, but growing the site even bigger and adding even more employees. They are well aware of the importance of the lighthouse attraction to the area.
“Eight people getting fourteen weeks employment, it makes a big difference in the economy,” noted Lawrence.
Nearby businesses that have partnered with the site are also reaping benefits as a result. A local restaurant offers a discount to lighthouse visitors and has reported an increase in the number of coupons redeemed.
What future attractions the site may add are still to be determined. In addition to the lighthouse, the gift shop, the grub box and the inn, there is also a museum offering a glimpse into the town’s history fishery and daily life. Tourists can even dress up in period costume and pose with vintage items.
Some suggestions by tourists are also under consideration. Many ask for copies of the video showing the actual restoration of the lighthouse as it began in 1996, only a few years after the cod moratorium was put in place.
Back then the Southwest Coast Development Association (SCDA) was looking for projects for suddenly unemployed harvesters, and re-training became almost mandatory for people forced to make a career change.
“They were always looking for projects for workers and things to do,” says board secretary Phyllis Horwood, who noted that previously a community group in the 1970s had looked into restoring the lighthouse but couldn’t raise the money.
“The masonry workers were actually locals,” said Lawrence. “They actually attended school at the Kinsmen Centre where they were trained to be masonry workers.”
Two were from Port aux Basques and the rest were from Rose Blanche, including a woman. The masonry students were the ones who restored the lighthouse, using 70 per cent of the original stones and carving the remaining 30 per cent out of the granite below the lighthouse, exactly where the original stones came from.
Today the site is maintained by RB Lighthouse Board, Inc., formed when the SCDA finished overseeing restoration and handed it off to the town, which immediately went looking for volunteers to handle operations. Horwood and Edwards signed on from the start and still treasure the lighthouse and other attractions they’ve worked so diligently to restore for the past 18 years.
“We’re still here,” said Horwood.
And even after 146 years, so is the lighthouse.